Lifting the Stigma: Men & Depression
For some North Texas men, the era of the novel Coronavirus has surfaced new and raw emotions driven by factors like job loss, change in financial situation, or concern for family members’ health and safety.
Moreover, amid this season of uncertainty about when the pandemic will end, most men are slow to recognize the symptoms of depression, uncomfortable discussing their emotions, and hesitant to seek professional help.
The Roots of Depression
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three primary causes of depression:
- Genetic factors traced to a family history of depression,
- Environment stress like financial problems and major life changes such as work-related issues,
- Illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can be made worse by depression.
While the cause for men suffering from depression may be any of the three, we’ll focus on environmental stresses that have come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. No doubt, many men today are combatting those stresses more than ever as they face circumstances they could not have imagined last year. Chief among them: the potential for job loss.
“Men want to feel in control when it comes to their jobs. Their identity and self-worth closely align with what they do for a living,” explains Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and administrator of Behavioral Health for Texas Health Dallas. With COVID, we’re living through very tough times with many men losing their jobs or being furloughed. Still, others are uncertain about whether their job will continue, with many unknowns about the future.”
He adds that men are often emotionally at their best when they feel in control of their jobs. When the security of a job is in question, a man’s sense of control is challenged. Each day can become a struggle, and even if one domino falls the wrong way, men begin to feel the weight of a perceived total disaster upon their shoulders.
All this at a time we’re being discouraged from physical contact with others — a traditional means of coping for many men. With COVID-19, getting together with friends or family members to soothe or sort out emotions is challenging.
What Does Depression Look Like in Men?
Webb says that while depression may affect men and women equally, symptoms vary between the sexes, with some outward signs visible and some not so visible. Compared with women, men are likely to be irritable and angry. But at the same time, men often internalize their feelings and suffer in silence, making casual observation by others more of a challenge.
“We know that men tend to have more trouble discussing their emotions than their female counterparts,” Webb shares. “This starts at the beginning of men’s lives when they’re taught to be strong and not cry. Often, they’ll search for a quick means to cope. In many cases, their sleep will suffer or they’ll sleep too much. They are more prone to turn to alcohol or other substances to cope. If they don’t recognize or accept their symptoms, it’s important for friends and family members to know what to watch for if they suspect a loved one is suffering from depression.”
In fact, friends and family members often are the first at recognizing a loved one is depressed and can play an instrumental role in encouraging him to seek professional help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, signs and symptoms for depression in men may include any of the following or a combination of symptoms:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness;
- Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge.”
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities;
- Problems with sexual desire and performance;
- Feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless;
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details;
- Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much.
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all;
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts;
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems;
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities;
- Engaging in high-risk activities;
- A need for alcohol or drugs;
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated.
Practicing a Bit of Self-Care
Webb emphasizes getting into the habit of self-care is critically important to minimize or stave off depression. He recommends men kick off a self-care regimen on good days, tapping into their energy and resources when they’re at their best to set a goal, stay connected with friends, or develop a hobby. Those practices can then be carried forward on days when self-care is needed most.
“I tell our patients that self-care has never been more important than it is today,” Webb explains. “But it requires discipline, a bit like going to the gym. It may be as simple as limiting news consumption, which causes many of us to spiral down a path of hopelessness. I also recommend creating what I call ‘happiness bubbles’ like virtual safe distancing gatherings with friends to chat about things like sports or books.”
Webb has a checklist of self-help principles that he often shares with patients. He says to function at our best, we should take care of ourselves in many areas, including:
- Physical – self-care for our body to ensure it runs efficiently. Webb says if you’re not taking care of your body, your mind will suffer in the process, and that includes getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating healthy foods, and being proactive with health and wellness.
- Mental – self-care for your mental wellness with positive morning affirmations, self-compassion to forgive yourself for your imperfections, and developing hobbies or new skills to keep the mind sharp and distracted from mental stress.
- Spiritual – self-care for the spirit to enhance your sense of awareness and connection within yourself and the world through diaphragmatic breathing, guided imagery, and mindfulness practices for relaxation.
- Social – self-care through connections with other people, such as virtual or safe-distanced gatherings or online support through online group chat therapy.
- Emotional – self-care to acknowledge and express feelings regularly through support groups, leisure activities that express laughter or joy, and time with family and friends.
The good news is that resources are available to men who are experiencing symptoms of depression, and Webb suggests starting with a complimentary assessment offered by Texas Health Behavioral which links the caller with a licensed therapist or practitioner who can assess the individual and refer him to additional resources, as appropriate.
For those who prefer an in-office experience, Webb says he and his team at Texas Health Behavioral Resources offer their services at 18 locations throughout North Texas. For additional information or to find resources, call (682) 626-8719.